How Much Food Should You Pack for a 1-2 Night Backpacking Trip?

How much food should you pack for a 1-2 night backpacking trip?

Most people pack way too much food when they go backpacking, especially for shorter trips lasting 1 to 2 nights in duration. While the rule of thumb is 2 lbs of food per day or 4000 calories, that number is based on what the average long-distance thru-hiker needs to eat in terms of caloric intake each day to keep hiking 20-30 miles per day and maintain their body weight. Most occasional backpackers can get by with 1.5 lbs per day of reasonably nutritious food because they’re not thru-hiking for months at a time where weight loss would be a concern. If you’re a reasonably healthy adult, you’re not going to starve to death on a short backpacking trip. Food is heavy and you don’t want to carry the extra weight if you don’t have to.

Calorie Counting

You can get all geeky about how many calories you’ll burn on a hike and therefore how many calories you need to carry, it really doesn’t matter that much for a short trip. Instead, I’d encourage you to plan out what you want to eat for breakfast and dinner, and then 3-4 fortifying snacks that you can eat in between those meals to help keep you alert and prevent your stomach from growling while you hike. A good balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats is advisable but try to pack food you normally eat at home. Dehydrated or freeze-dried camping-specific meals can make you lose your appetite because let’s face it, they’re a poor imitation of real food. If you don’t eat freeze-dried Beef Stroganoff at home, you’re probably not going to enjoy it on a hiking trip either.

Appetite Loss

Appetite loss is a very common occurrence on hiking and camping trips because it takes your mind and body a few days to a week to adjust to a new schedule and food selection. The best way to counteract that is to schedule your big meals around your regular schedule and eat real food, similar to what you eat at home.

Simple Backpacking Meals and Snack Ideas

For example, here’s a sampling of meals and snacks I might pack food-wise on a 1-2 night backpacking trip.  This is all real food that I enjoy to eat and is pretty close to what I eat at home when my wife (who is a foodie) isn’t around.

  • Breakfast
    • Pound cake slices in separate Ziploc baggies. Keeps forever.
    • Instant wheat cereal or oatmeal with a sandwich baggie full of dried fruit and nuts
    • Starbuck’s instant coffee
  • Snacks
    • Peanut butter and honey sandwiches on wheat, pre-made, in separate Ziplocs.
    • Nutella sandwiches on oatmeal bread, pre-made, in separate Ziplocs.
    • Smashed up potato chips for calories and salt
    • Ziploc bags of cookies
    • Cliff bars
    • Homemade gorp (raisins, nuts, m&ms)
    • Dried chorizo sausage
    • Small wheel of gouda cheese in wax and crackers
  • Dinner
    • Knorr rice side with a packet of tuna or chicken
    • Dried cheese tortellini with a packet of olive oil and salt
    • Angel hair pasta with a packet of olive oil and hot pepper flakes
    • Instant rice mixed with a pack of boil-in-the-bag Indian food

When I assemble my food for a trip, I count out my meals and snacks, put it in my food bag (which is usually an Ursack) and weigh it on a digital scale. If it comes out to more than 1.5 lbs per day, I take a few snacks out to lower the weight. I still often come home with a snack or two that haven’t been eaten.

Summary

  • You’re not going to starve to death on a 1 or 2-night backpacking trip. 1.5 lbs of food per day will be sufficient.
  • Don’t stress out about how many calories you’ve packed. Aim for a good balance of protein, carbs, and fat but don’t sweat it.
  • You’ll have a much better appetite if you eat your big meals at your normal eating times.
  • Eat the foods you normally eat at home and avoid dehydrated or freeze-dried camping meals

About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 7500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 2500 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its detailed gear reviews and educational content. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip is the 36th person to hike all 650 of the hiking trails in the White Mountain Guide. He is also the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. In addition, Philip volunteers as a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont's Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He lives in New Hampshire.
Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the affiliate links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and the seller will contribute a portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.

Most Popular Searches

  • how much food for backpacking
  • how much food should you pack for a hike

17 comments

  1. I’ve been having trouble getting olive oil packets, do you get yours online? Is freeze dried tortellini prepackaged (i.e. Mountain House)?

    • I have found them – as freebies – in Hannafords in the prepared foods case. Perhaps they are in other markets?

    • I purchased extra virgin olive oil in 1 tbsp. sachets from a vendor on Amazon. They’re handy, but in the future I’ll carry a small plastic bottle.

  2. How timely! I have a backpack planned this weekend with a friend who Always. Packs. Too. Much. Especially. Food. :-) I just forwarded this to her. Doubt she’ll read it it, nor will she only pack 1.5-2 lbs of food, but now I can say “I told you so.”

    But seriously, this is really good advice I needed to hear too. I’m not going to starve over the course of four days if I slightly underpack on food. I might be hungry, but I can remedy that situation pretty easily once out of the woods.

  3. This is something I struggle with every time I go on a multi-night trip. I pack like I am still 3 months into a thru-hike and suffering from hiker hunger and not that I am only going out for a few nights. Especially when I can get breakfast on the first day and dinner on the last day off the trail. The appetite suppression is real and I rarely end up eating dinner the first night or two on trail. Usually end up eating only half the food I bring with me on a 4 day hike. I will learn one of these days.

  4. Plan to eat ‘normal’ food on the first day. Take some fresh fruit (washed, cut and in ziploc bags), you can do the same with some vegetables like bell pepper and add them to dinner. I recently splurged with an avocado for 1st day breakfast to go with scrambled eggs and tortilla

    Favorite snack: Trader Joe’s peanut butter pretzels. $2.50 and incredibly tasty and filling

    • I agree but some fruits like avacado leave a lot of waste to pack out which sucks

      • Make some guacamole with onions and lime or lemon juice. No waste, and the oxidation of the avocados will be curtailed. It will keep for a day or two – if you can keep from scarfing it all down at once!

  5. There’s countless menu options but my rule of thumb, which makes all kinds of sense if you’re in the real wilderness and can suck up the extra pound or so, is to have one extra days worth of food. Always having something in reserve, if stuff goes south, is wise.

  6. Amen to eating what you eat at home. Three years ago I made an exception on an overnight with a spaghetti option from a popular supplier and as good as it was it kicked off what can only be referred to as the infamous 24 hour flatulence fest. In researching following I see it had been discontinued. As a foodie I don’t mind some compromise on weight and convenience and add the following. Out and back trips may offer the opportunity to cache heavier ingredients and all root vegetables like carrots, onion, garlic and even small potatoes keep incredibly well. A group of about 3 adults sharing weight and duties works well and fuel, a pot for cooking and one for water is ideal. I still enjoy fresh protein on the first 2 nights and a well wrapped block of frozen beef with a paper bag or two is a great ice pack for day one’s offering. Perhaps some would consider this too much hassle but I’ve often seen jaws drop at camp when others realized that one didn’t require a meal prepared in a factory a year ago to spend a couple of days in the woods

  7. I like to treat myself by carrying an apple for each day i’m out. I’ll eat it as a snack during the afternoon, it gives me a good mental pick me up biting into a fresh apple.

  8. I eat my own dehydrated meals all the time on every trip. They mimic the diet I eat at home, pack light, and taste great- even my breakfast egg meals. During the summer I pack 1.5lbs of food per day and raise it to 2lbs per day during the winter. I experiment with meals and menus every year and I have many go-to meals that are the envy of my fellow travelers. From my perspective dehydrating ones own meals is fun and rewarding.

  9. I must be the exception because I love freeze dried food. I’m like MH’s target demographic: I value the convenience of dumping hot water into a pouch of stuff. My backpacking partner is an 11 year old, and he loves MH too — which probably says a lot about the taste of MH. But I honestly don’t mind MH and ramern on the trail — food always tastes better on the trail anyway. Plus it gives me a break from cooking for the 11 year old, which is what I am forever doing at home. I’m also carrying disproportionately more gear between the two of us, so every little ounce helps. But even when I’m solo I tend to carry the freeze dried stuff. Wish it were a little less expensive, but it’s still cheaper than any weekend getaway that doesn’t involve backpacking. And loss of appetite? Never!

  10. I quite often take a wet meal for the first night, simply home left overs (chilli, curry, spag sauce, casseroles, etc) in a small peanut butter jars & frozen. Easy to take one out of the freezer the night before & pack some rice/ pasta/ noodles to add to the pot; cheap, tasty & carrying the weight (~8oz of water) isn’t really an issue. I also like to have a few ‘luxuries’ along on short trips e.g. parmesan for pasta, cheddar for the chilli, soy sauce for the noodles, pickle for the curries, etc.

  11. Pack it Gourmet meals come pretty close to mimicking “ real food”. I highly recommend!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *